Can Your Hearing be Damaged by Earbuds?

Woman listening to ear buds in danger of hearing loss.

Have you ever forgotten your Earbuds in your pocket and they ended up going through the wash or maybe lost them altogether? Suddenly, your morning jog is so much more boring. You have a dull and dreary train ride to work. And the audio quality of your virtual meetings suffers substantially.

Sometimes, you don’t grasp how valuable something is until you’ve lost it (yes, we are not being discreet around here today).

So you’re so relieved when you finally get a working pair of earbuds. The world is suddenly vibrant again, full of music, podcasts, and crystal clear sound. Earbuds are everywhere nowadays, and individuals utilize them for a lot more than just listening to their favorite tunes (though, obviously, they do that too).

But, unfortunately, earbuds can present some substantial risks to your ears because so many people are using them for so many listening activities. Your hearing could be at risk if you’re using earbuds a lot every day.

Earbuds are different for a number of reasons

In previous years, you would need cumbersome, earmuff-style, headphones if you wanted a high-fidelity listening experience. That’s not always the case anymore. Modern earbuds can supply stunning sound in a tiny space. They were made popular by smartphone manufacturers, who provided a shiny new pair of earbuds with basically every smart device sold all through the 2010s (Presently, you don’t find that as much).

These little earbuds (sometimes they even include microphones) began showing up everywhere because they were so high-quality and accessible. Whether you’re out and about, or spending time at home, earbuds are one of the main ways you’re taking calls, viewing your favorite program, or listening to tunes.

It’s that combination of convenience, portability, and reliability that makes earbuds practical in a wide variety of contexts. Consequently, many consumers use them almost all the time. That’s where things get a bit tricky.

It’s all vibrations

In essence, phone calls, music, or podcasts are all the same. They’re just air molecules being moved by waves of pressure. Your brain will then classify the vibrations into categories like “voice” or “music”.

In this pursuit, your brain gets a big assist from your inner ear. There are very small hairs inside of your ear that oscillate when exposed to sound. These vibrations are minute, they’re tiny. Your inner ear is what actually recognizes these vibrations. Your brain makes sense of these vibrations after they’re transformed into electrical impulses by a nerve in your ear.

This is significant because it’s not music or drums that cause hearing loss, it’s volume. So whether you’re listening to NPR or Death Metal, the risk is exactly the same.

The risks of earbud use

Because of the popularity of earbuds, the danger of hearing damage as a result of loud noise is fairly widespread. According to one study, over 1 billion young individuals are at risk of developing hearing loss across the globe.

Using earbuds can increase your danger of:

  • Going through social isolation or cognitive decline as a result of hearing loss.
  • Repeated exposure increasing the development of sensorineural hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss leading to deafness.
  • Not being able to communicate with your family and friends without wearing a hearing aid.

There’s some evidence to suggest that using earbuds might present greater risks than using regular headphones. The reason might be that earbuds move sound right to the most sensitive parts of the ear. Some audiologists think this is the case while others still aren’t sure.

Either way, volume is the principal consideration, and both kinds of headphones can create hazardous levels of that.

Duration is also a concern besides volume

You might be thinking, well, the fix is simple: I’ll just turn down the volume on my earbuds as I binge my new favorite show for 24 episodes in a row. Of course, this would be a good plan. But there’s more to it than that.

This is because how long you listen is as crucial as how loud it is. Moderate volume for five hours can be equally as damaging as top volume for five minutes.

When you listen, here are a few ways to keep it safer:

  • It’s a good plan not to go above 40% – 50% volume level.
  • Use the 80/90 rule: Listen at 80% volume for no more than 90 minutes. (Want more time? Lower the volume.)
  • Stop listening immediately if you notice ringing in your ears or your ears begin to hurt.
  • If you don’t want to think about it, you may even be capable of changing the maximum volume on your smart device.
  • Take frequent breaks. It’s best to take regular and lengthy breaks.
  • Activate volume warnings on your device. These warnings can alert you when your listening volume goes a bit too high. Once you hear this alert, it’s your job to lower the volume.

Your ears can be stressed by using headphones, specifically earbuds. So try to cut your ears some slack. After all, sensorineural hearing loss doesn’t (usually) happen all of a sudden; it progresses gradually and over time. Which means, you may not even acknowledge it occurring, at least, not until it’s too late.

Sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (or NIHL) is usually permanent. When the stereocilia (small hair-like cells in your ears that detect sound) get damaged by too much exposure to loud sound, they can never be restored.

The damage accumulates gradually over time, and it normally starts as very limited in scope. That can make NIHL hard to detect. You might think your hearing is perfectly fine, all the while it is slowly getting worse and worse.

There is presently no cure or capability of reversing NIHL. However, there are treatments designed to offset and decrease some of the most significant effects of sensorineural hearing loss (the most popular of such treatments is a hearing aid). These treatments, however, can’t reverse the damage that’s been done.

This means prevention is the most useful strategy

This is why prevention is stressed by so many hearing specialists. And there are several ways to lower your risk of hearing loss, and to exercise good prevention, even while listening to your earbuds:

  • When you’re not using your earbuds, limit the amount of noise damage your ears are exposed to. This could mean paying additional attention to the sound of your surroundings or avoiding overly loud situations.
  • Use multiple kinds of headphones. Simply put, switch from earbuds to other types of headphones sometimes. Try utilizing over-the-ear headphones too.
  • If you do need to go into an extremely loud environment, utilize ear protection. Ear plugs, for example, work quite well.
  • Some headphones and earbuds come with noise-canceling technology, try to use those. With this feature, you will be capable of hearing your media more clearly without having to turn it up quite so loud.
  • Having your hearing checked by us routinely is a good plan. We will be able to help you get assessed and monitor the overall health of your hearing.
  • When you’re using your devices, use volume-limiting apps.

Preventing hearing loss, especially NIHL, can help you safeguard your sense of hearing for years longer. And, if you do wind up needing treatment, such as hearing aids, they will be more effective.

So… are earbuds the enemy?

Well…should I just toss my earbuds in the rubbish? Well, no. Not at all! Brand-name earbuds can be expensive.

But your approach could need to be modified if you’re listening to your earbuds regularly. You may not even recognize that your hearing is being damaged by your earbuds. Knowing the danger, then, is your best defense against it.

Step one is to moderate the volume and duration of your listening. But talking to us about the state of your hearing is the next step.

Think you may have damaged your hearing with earbuds? We can help! Get assessed now!

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

Stop struggling to hear conversations. Come see us today. Call or Text